An urgent review and overhaul of the Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme (SCEP) is being sought by Sinn Féin.
The main opposition party also claimed that the difficulties with SCEP called into question the make-up of the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) board.
Sinn Féin claimed that significant concerns had been raised around SCEP by farmers and these reservations were reflected in the low uptake.
The party’s spokesperson on agriculture Claire Kerrane TD pointed out that just 17,627 farmers had joined SCEP as of this month.
Feedback from suckler farmers suggested that the scheme - which replaces the Beef Data Genomics Programme (BDGP) and Beef Environmental Efficiency Programme (BEEP-S) - is too complex and restrictive, Deputy Kerrane maintained.
“It is clear that SCEP in its current form is unworkable – it is too rigid and complicated, which we are seeing reflected in low participation in the scheme,” she said.
“In a recent response to a parliamentary question I posed to the Minister [for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue], he confirmed that, of 20,837 applications to the scheme, 858 herdowners withdrew from the scheme and 2,352 were deemed ineligible.
“It is hard to believe that supposedly ‘all’ suckler farmers are supposed to be eligible for SCEP, when we are seeing only a small portion of suckler farmers interested or able to take part in the scheme,” Deputy Kerrane stated.
“SCEP must be reviewed and revamped if it is to deliver much needed support to suckler farmers,” she added.
The Sinn Féin TD said farmers' concerns regarding the scheme were heightened by the recent changes to the beef index.
The difficulties with SCEP also raised questions around the make-up of the ICBF board, Deputy Kerrane claimed.
“Questions need to be asked about sectoral representation on the ICBF board. There absolutely should be adequate suckler farmer and mart representation on the board and this is something I have queried with the Minister,” she said.
“SCEP needs to be paused, reviewed and overhauled to ensure it can deliver for suckler farmers. I am calling for the Minister to do so and to engage with the sector to make sure SCEP can be a success," the Sinn Féin deputy insisted.